Christian Baptists teach “believer’s baptism”, that one should only baptize those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. In practice, this means that they baptize adults and do not baptize infants.
The problem with this is that the Bible does not teach this. A second problem is that these Baptists baptize only Christians with personal assurance of salvation, but what about those who don’t have this assurance? So they are not baptizing all believers. A third problem is that Baptists don’t baptize their children, so some of them have invented dedication services for their children instead.
So what does the Bible say?
First, the Bible nowhere states that you should baptize believers. The verb “to baptize” needs an object. The only objects of the Greek verb “to baptize” in the Bible are people and utensils, such as cups, pots and tables Mk 7:4, where the basic concept of baptizing is seen to be ‘washing’. Baptists teach baptism by submersion but the Jews did not submerge tables; they washed them.
Nowhere does the Bible say to baptize believers.
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist Mat 20:22-23, Mk 10:39-39 and He did not need salvation nor repentance.
The subjects of Christian baptism
So, what sort of people should receive Christian baptism? The Baptists make the mistake of insisting that only those who believe in Jesus as their personal Saviour should be baptized.
John the Baptist’s baptism did not require this Act 19:3-5. Jesus’ disciples also baptized Jn 4:1-2 and it is unlikely that they required what modern Baptists require. Finally, after His resurrection, Jesus replaced these forms of baptism with Christian baptism in the name of the Triune God Mat 28:19-20.
Scripture tells us plainly who are baptized in this Christian baptism. We baptize disciples of Jesus Christ. The Greek text of the Great Commission translates as: “Go therefore and make disciples of all ethnic groups, baptizing them (these disciples) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” Mat 28:19. They are baptized as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Who or what is a disciple?
A disciple is a learner, a pupil, a scholar. The Greek word translated as “make disciples” is matheteuo ‘to disciple, instruct, teach’, derived from mathetes ‘a learner, pupil, disciple’, a noun from manthano ‘to learn’. Jesus called people to follow Him and to learn from Him. His disciples were learners, and some of them were baptized. In the Great Commission, Jesus tells His church to make disciples and baptize them as disciples.
A disciple is not necessarily a believer in Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour, but he is a scholar learning about Jesus. The Jews were Moses’ disciples Jn 9:28, John the Baptist had his disciples Jn 3:25-26 and Jesus had His disciples. Some of Jesus’ disciples found His teaching too difficult, and they abandoned Him Jn 6:66.
The apostle John tells us that Jesus “made and baptized more disciples than John” Jn 4:1-2. First, they were made disciples, then they were baptized as disciples, not as believers in their personal salvation through Jesus Christ. This salvation needs to be taught to Jesus’ disciples, and this is exactly what Jesus commissioned His church to do:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all ethnic groups, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”Mat. 28:19-20
Many of Jesus’ disciples gave up His teaching when it became too hard for them Jn 6:60-71. They were not born again Jn 3:3,5,7. This false profession continued in the Acts of the Apostles Acts 8:13,18-23 and it continues to the present day. Jesus warned against it Mat 7:21-29 and Jn 8:30-37.We read about groups of people being baptized, thousands at a time Act 2:41, and households being baptized Act 16:15.
Simon the sorcerer was baptized but he soon demonstrated that he was not converted Act 8:13-23.
Christians baptize their children as “little disciples”, not as believers. They will teach their baptized children as Jesus commanded Mat 28:19-20. They should be taught that they need to be born again Jn 3:3,5,7. After water baptism they need to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. John Baptist taught his disciples: “I have baptized you with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost” Mk 1:8. “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but He that comes after me is mightier than I, Whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” Mat 3:11. We should teach the same.
Not all disciples know that they are born again, so why do Baptists expect people to confess that they are saved before they are baptized? This is confession of assurance about one’s own salvation rather than faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus had to teach Simon Peter what his own confession meant Mat 16:16-17.
Peter encouraged his readers to make their calling and election sure 2Pe 1:10. Why so, if their personal salvation was already so obvious to them? John wrote his epistles to help Christian disciples know that they had eternal life.
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.”1 John 5:13
Why did the apostle John write this if all baptized disciples already know it? Baptists baptize only those who believe that they are saved by Jesus. This is assurance of salvation, not saving faith. This concept of assurance of personal salvation incorporated into the Baptists’ teaching and practice about believer’s baptism is only one but a significant error in their biblical exegesis.
There are many believers in Christ who have no assurance of their salvation.
Roman Catholic baptism
Roman Catholics teach that a person is born again, in effect baptized with the Holy Spirit, whenever they are baptized with water. The Bible does not teach this.
The danger with this false doctrine is that the average Roman Catholic does not realise that they still need to be born again by the Holy Spirit. They become dependant upon the Roman Catholic system for their salvation instead of Jesus Christ and His Spirit.
Also Roman Catholicism teaches that anyone can baptize in extreme circumstances. So a midwife can sprinkle water upon a dying baby, and according to their doctrine the Holy Spirit is at her command. This is not the teaching of Scripture.
Biblical baptism – Christian baptism
The Bible teaches that we baptize disciples of Jesus Christ. Those who are baptized are responding to Jesus’ command and they are identifying themselves with Jesus Christ as Lord. We need a word to describe these baptized disciples. The biblical word appears to be Christian. The Christian church comprises those who have been baptised with Christian baptism. They need to be taught “all things” that Jesus has taught the church.
The name Christian began in Antioch Act 11:26. It possibly began as a derogatory term, and rapidly became a nickname by which the followers of Jesus Christ were known. It was sufficiently well-known for king Agrippa to use it Act 26:28, which Paul did not contradict Act 26:29 and Peter felt no shame to be associated with its use 1Pe 4:16.
I think that this was God’s intention in providence. The Lord is in the business of giving new names to people. He renamed Abram as Abraham Gen 17:5, and Jacob as Israel Gen 32:28. See also Isa 62:4, Jer 33:16, Rev 2:17 and Rev 3:12. It seems to me that Isa 62:2 and Isa 65:15 anticipate this new name – Christian.
There is more to this subject, which I plan to continue in following blogposts, linked as Updates below when they are published, God willing. May God bless you.
18 Feb 2012: self-examination.
30 Oct 2014: Are you open to biblical correction?
7 Dec 2022: Christian discipleship baptism: those who have a right to Christian baptism; its subjects.
14 Dec 2022: the exegesis of Christian baptism: the necessity of biblical exegesis to resolve differences between Christians.
31 Dec 2022: Adequate modes of Christian baptism: one of the issues of the day for divided biblical Christians.
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